Last night, Bill Moyers’s Journal featured a film called Beyond our Differences. The film explored the commonalities of the major religions/philosophies in the world today, and used current day events to highlight how the practices of the peoples of faith contradict the principles of their faith. As a person of faith, I watched this film with much interest, and several scenes moved me to tears. The film is punctuated with saying from Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and perhaps a few other -isms that I missed too.
Would I recommend this film? Yes. Do I have issues with some of the scenes? Yes. Do I think it could have been more complete with the inclusion of certain other scenes? Yes, again.
One of the primary scenes I took umbrage to was one in which the Taliban were depicted flogging the women of Afghanistan who were said to be out and about, conducting daily chores like going to the doctor. Perhaps such things did happen…perhaps they did not; perhaps, in reality it was not so much of a flogging as a tapping; perhaps, the activities were not so innocent as a trip to the doctor. Really, Allah knows best. Some may say, “Well, the proof is right in front of your eyes, are you too blind to see it? Have you been brainwashed? Are you one of them, a Taliban sympathizer?” To them, I would say, yes I may be too blind to see it, but not in spite of the fact that it’s “right in front of my eyes.” No, I have not been brainwashed, I am quite the free-thinking individual when free thought is required. And no, I am not a Taliban sympathizer. However, the scene that was “right in front of my eyes” did not appear to be a real scene; it seems to be a re-enactment, and a dramatic re-enactment at that. Drama’s fine, but when you’re talking about real-life events, it’s best to stick with authentic footage; with a dramatic re-enactment, there are many biases introduced into the scene: bias of the producer, the director, the cameraman, and perhaps even the actors. I doubt there were very many Taliban running around with huge Rodeo Drive sunglasses. The flogging seemed too severe to be reality, although Allah knows, anything is possible, and was shown in crystal clear clarity with slow motion and evocative black and white. Moving, but lacked a certain essence of “in the moment.”
Moving on to the next issue that left me with a sense of bereftness: the lack of certain contextual scenes. I found it enlightening to see footage of Chinese troops abusing Tibetan citizens/monks in 1951; the footage was raw and somber and stirs something in the soul–seeing human beings beaten senselessly is really heart-wrenching, and these are images that need to be shown. I waited for the correlative images of Israeli-on-Palestinian violence. I waited for the images of Indian/Hindu-on-Kashmir/Muslim violence. I waited for the images of Indian/Hindu-on-Gujarat/Muslim violence. I waited for images of Serbian-on-Bosnian violence. There were a few more from recent Muslim history that I waited for, but the waiting was futile.
I wondered why it bothered me so much, why I should care to once again see images that I am already aware of. I came to the realization that showing Muslim on Muslim violence, even if it must be re-enacted with other inserted biases, real or perceived, is noble. Showing Chinese on Tibetan violence is noble, especially as the footage is no re-enactment. Showing Muslim (and non-Muslim Arabs) being violently violated? Well, that is neither necessary nor noble. At the end of it all, I was a bit surprised, and certainly very thankful, that images of the recent Mumbai rampage was not included.
The lack of certain footage with the inclusion of other images broke this film for me. Rather than being a film on the similarities of our collective spirituality, it became a film on the weight of our politics–not because of the images included, but because of the footage that is not considered. But then, isn’t it always about politics?
All I see at the end are our differences.